The Anglican Communion Institute (ACI) has published a long detailed analysis of my article "Why direct diocesan sign-on now to the Covenant is a bad idea." It is unclear who the author is. The ACI pages simply posts it as, "More On Communion And Hierarchy" without an author listed. Anglican Mainstream picked it up with Dr. Philip Turner listed as author. The Covenant picked it up under the by-line Fr. Matthew Oliver. Well, one way or another not bad coverage on both sides of the pond.
Whoever wrote it did a detailed analysis of my paper. I am grateful the author took the time. There are several corrections and comments I would like to make.
(i) The author writes, " He has made clear the full scope of the widespread view among TEC’s present leadership that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s observation about the possibility of covenant ratification on the part of dioceses is both harmful and unhelpful." And later, "... the views Fr. Harris expresses, views he shares with the Presiding Bishop and much of the present leadership of our church, are views that go against its constitution and change, indeed almost reverse, the way in which TEC has understood itself since its foundation." The author seems to believe that my position is that of "TEC's present leadership" and that these are views I share "with the Presiding Bishop and much of the present leadership of our church." I suppose this is a complement, in that I greatly admire the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies and a number of the progressive bishops and deputies in TEC. But to be fair to them and to the author, my views on Preludium are in no wise to be considered those of the leadership of TEC. These are my views here, for what they are worth, and I would be glad if they were shared by others. I don't assume it and neither should the author.
(ii) The author states "Let it be noted first that the chief concern of those individual dioceses that might want to ratify the covenant is not, contra Fr. Harris, a desire to leave TEC for another jurisdiction." Granted. I believe that a number of the Communion Partners are quite sincere in their desire to be both part of TEC and part of the Anglican Communion. It is a desire I share, although I do not share the belief that independent ratification of the covenant is the way to go.
The author next states, " Neither is it a desire to create an international form of governance." I disagree.
That is precisely what I am arguing is at stake, quite independent of desire. I believe strongly however that at least some of the Communion Partners are quite up for that.
The author then gets to the crux of the matter: "The chief concern is, given the fact that TEC has provisionally rejected the Covenant by repudiating the Communion teaching the Covenant requires and given that is unlikely that TEC will ratify a covenant that places limitations on the course of action taken at this past General Convention, it is more than likely that TEC’s relation with the Instruments of Communion and a large majority of Anglican Provinces will be compromised."
The whole of the ACI paper's argument rests on the "fact" "that TEC has provisionally rejected the Covenant..." I believe that is not a fact, but a belief, and one that I hope is not fully founded in reality. I believe TEC has not at all "provisionally rejected the Covenant." Rather, in the transformation of D020, the "Martin" resolution, we rejected the "provisional commitment" to the Anglican Covenant, and replaced that language with the commendation "That dioceses and congregations be invited to consider the Anglican Covenant proposed draft as a document to inform their understanding of and commitment to our common life in the Anglican Communion."
At each juncture TEC has made ample provision for diocese, bishops, standing committees, etc, to comment on the development of the Covenant and through Executive Council we have been diligent in referring the comments we received to the Anglican Communion Office and to the Covenant Design Group. That continues into what appears to be the final cycle prior to the publication of the final Draft of the Anglican Covenant, which will then be sent to the Churches of the Anglican Communion.
TEC has not "provisionally rejected" the Covenant. I have no idea whether or not the complete text will be received, adopted and signed on to at the next General Convention. The ACI paper assumes the worse, based in part on the writer's understanding of resolutions passed at General Convention that seem to lift the restraints on actions that would be contrary to the requirement of Draft Covenant 3.2.5, "to act with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy, which by its intensity, substance or extent could threaten the unity of the Communion and the effectiveness or credibility of its mission."
ACI's argument seems to be that, given our actions, we have indeed provisionally rejected the Anglican Covenant. That point is only valid, of course, if we have not acted "with diligence, care and caution in respect of any action which may provoke controversy..." The argument is raised again and again that insufficient theological work and conversation has taken place regarding a theology of blessing, of sexuality, of ordination, etc., to back a claim that such actions as those taken or contemplated by TEC are warranted. The claim is there has been a lack of due diligence, care and caution. Many of us believe that we have been diligent, careful and cautious and that our actions are reasonable within the core beliefs, values and community expectations of this Church and that our expression in these actions can be commended, even to those who do not agree, as our response to God's call to this Church.
So the ACI paper presents its claim, that of TEC's "provisional rejection." Given that claim it is clearer just why the ACI paper wants to move ahead with diocesan buy-in to the Covenant. I do not argue, or at least I try not to argue, that there is any constitutional or canonical reason why dioceses cannot sign-on to the Anglican Covenant. My argument is that the Anglican Communion, through its "instruments" ought to accept notification not by dioceses but by the province, which is a national or regional church.
The ACI paper believes that effectively TEC as a Church has already jumped ahead and provisionally rejected the Covenant and will do so in fact at the next General Convention. I am not convinced. The next three years will provide ample time for discussion and it may well be that the Anglican Covenant, if it is seen not to require changes in our Canons or Constitution, will find a majority vote in both houses next time we meet. There are large parts of the existing draft that I find perfectly acceptable, others not. Perhaps there will be some changes in interpretation of existing final sections and some changes in conceptual and verbal forms of the last section. Perhaps over the three years we will all step back from thinking the worse of the whole thing and begin to thing of it in positive ways. Then again, maybe not.
As someone who has spent considerable time working with others on the response to the Windsor Report, and the successive drafts of the Covenant, and as (I suppose) a progressive, I can attest to the care with which the text is being received and discussed. TEC has probably done more work examining this document than most other Churches in the Communion and engaged more lay and clergy input than most other Churches. We are taking the matter seriously.
(iii) The author of the ACI papers holds out an interesting accusation; "Those who hold power have acted decisively in ways founded on crude majoritarian vote rather than consensus." "Crude majoritarian vote" is certainly one way to describe the votes taken at the close of extensive debate, hearings, legislative working group efforts and even committee of the whole actions. Another way is to describe it as a vote taken at the close of a broad effort to produce a resolution that a large majority could affirm. The votes of D020, D025 and C056 were all taken in both houses after extensive workup so that the final form would gather a rather broad affirmation. It was in no way a "crude majoritarian vote" but rather the large majority voting on broadly acceptable resolutions.
(iv) There is one place where the ACI paper simply misreads what I said, or perhaps I needed to say it better. The author says, "To think that six or seven hundred dioceses from around the Communion would be part of provinces that did not ratify the Covenant is way beyond the bounds of credibility." The author is right. I was suggesting in fact that six or seven hundred dioceses would buy-on individually and be counted among the signers of the Covenant. My sense was that perhaps two hundred might not. The point was that whichever way it goes, if a sizeable majority of the dioceses of the Anglican Communion as currently constituted were to sign on, and the remaining did not, the direct decisions by one or the other of the instruments of unity would have to be invoked in a wide range of cases to determine who was in and who was out.
Remember, it is not who signs on to the Covenant that alone counts, it is who abides by the Covenant. The instruments might determine that TEC has not abided by the Covenant, but does it want to have to decide if the Diocese of Delaware (my diocese) has?
(v) The author of the ACI paper closes by stating, "Our founders were careful to define TEC in relation to the doctrine and worship of the Church of England. Latterly that definition changed to communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and membership in the Anglican Communion. Both definitions place The Episcopal Church within a communion of churches, the whole of which is more fundamental to Christian identity than its national expression. We do not know if it is any longer possible to carry on a meaningful discussion of this crucial issue, but we are grateful to Fr. Harris for making an attempt."
They might also remember that "our founders" were careful to say that "...when in the course of Divine Providence, these American States became independent with respect to civil government, their ecclesiastical independence was necessarily included; and the different religious denominations of Christians in these States were left at full and equal liberty to model and organize their respective Churches, and forms of worship, and discipline, in such manner as they might judge most convenient for their future prosperity; consistently with the constitution and laws of their country." (BCP, Preface pg 10)
Of course they were set on maintaining consistency of doctrine and worship with the CofE. But they understood TEC to be a "religious denomination of Christians in thee States." Our consistency with the doctrine and worship of the CofE was there, but so was the right to judge "most convenient for their future prosperity" the ways in which that continued legacy of the CofE was to be maintained.
The ACI article closes on a note of despair, wondering if it is even useful to have these exchanges. I think so. I learned, for example, that the ACI writer believes TEC has "provisionally rejected" the Covenant. I believe the writer to be wrong, but it makes clearer the contention that dioceses ought then to declare themselves for the Covenant at the earliest point, not at a later one. I also learned that the ACI writer is at least consistent with fellow ACI writers in maintaining that "our primary objection to Fr. Harris’ analysis, with its implicit proposal that dioceses are subject in a final sense to the determinations of a national governing body. We have on numerous occasions shown that, within TEC, there is no constitutional basis for this claim. According to its constitution, as a national church, TEC is not hierarchical. It is hierarchical in a constitutional sense only at the diocesan level."
The "numerous occasions" include of course the two rather long articles on the matter that have received considerable attention in the past. These articles are, in my mind, not persuasive. The nearest we can come to agreement on this is that it is hierarchical in ways considerably different from, say, the Church of England.
At any rate, I rather hope ACI writers continue to engage the questions raised. No one else may learn much from it all, but I have learned a bit. Still, in the end, the matter is this: As it stands diocesan decision to be Anglican Covenant compliant is, like the desire to be Windsor Compliant, a early declaration of how a diocese will vote later. Those who declare themselves are wanting something - in this case inclusion in the Anglican Communion inner circle, the "first track." As the Church of England is finding out itself these days, two tracks do not tell us much, except that perhaps one makes many stops and the other is express. But which is which?